Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The conservative fantasy of natural economic justice

The fantasy that the rich are rich because they work hard and the poor are poor because they are lazy and feckless is a form of self-attribution fallacy that is extremely prevalent within the ranks of the Tory party.

In this article I'm going to provide several examples of Tories trying to pretend that poverty is the fault of the poor, then I'm going to explain why this kind of smug absolutist thinking is so wrong-headed.


Mark Winn

In the first week of January 2015 a Tory councilor from Aylesbury hit the headlines with his stunningly ignorant claim that "The people visiting food banks are those with drug, alcohol and mental health problems". The really bizarre thing about Mark Winn's claim that all food bank users are mentally ill drug addicts is that it formed part of his one man campaign against the BBC drama Casualty for daring to depict a food bank user as a decent person who had fallen upon hard times.

In Mark Winn's head, the idea that any food bank user might be an ordinary person suffering hard times (because of unfair benefits sanctions and/or Tory ideological austerity) is leftist propaganda, and his incredibly lazy absolutist generalisation that all food bank users are all addicts and the mentally unwell is the undeniable truth!

Boris Johnson

In December 2013 Boris Johnson sparked controversy by claiming that the poor are poor because they have low intelligence, and that more should be done by the state to help the 2% with IQs above 130. What Boris Johnson was claiming is that the rich deserve to be rich because they are clever, and the poor deserve to be poor because they're stupid.

This kind of ridiculous absolutism is easy to undermine from both ends of the spectrum. You only need to look at certain members of the royal family, or the Tory party leadership to see that wealth and power can be inherited by people with very limited intellectual prowess, and I'm pretty sure we've all come across people in life who are spectacularly intelligent and sharp-witted, but who are not exactly loaded. 

Some rich people are mindlessly thick, and some incredibly smart people are poor and ordinary in financial terms. Boris Johnson wants to argue the opposite because he likes to believe that he and his chums obtained their positions of wealth and power by virtue of their intelligence, rather than accept that it's got a lot more to do with the fact their parents were loaded enough to pay tens of thousands of pounds a year for their tuition at elitist schools like Eton, Westminster and Harrow, than how innately smart they are.
Anne Jenkin

In December 2014 the unelected Tory peer Anne Jenkin tried to defend the exponential rise in food bank dependency with absurd claims that poor people go to food banks because "they don't know how to cook". This ridiculous claim that poor people are too thick to use an oven or a saucepan is very easy to demolish. 

The number of people using food banks has risen by almost a million since the Tories came to power, which means that Anne Jenkin is expecting the public to believe that a million people have forgotten how to cook since 2010. When the economic evidence shows beyond doubt that utility bills and food prices are inflating dramatically during the longest sustained period of falling wages since records began, this Tory woman want you to believe that people aren't poorer at all, they've just forgotten how to cook!

Of course lack of cooking skills is a serious problem in society, as is the lack of time hard working people have to spend preparing meals from scratch on a regular basis. However, blaming the incredible rise in food poverty since 2010 solely on the lack of home cooked meals is fantastical stuff that only a delusional excuse-seeking Tory could ever come up with.

Michael Gove

In September 2013 the then Education Secretary Michael Gove took time off from mass privatising the English education system into the hands of unaccountable pseudo-charity profiteers in order to lambaste people who use food banks as being too stupid to "manage their finances".

This argument is just as easy to demolish as the ridiculous idea that a million people have simply forgotten how to cook since 2010. Is anyone gullible enough to believe that during the longest sustained decline in wages since records began, that people are so poor that they can't feed their families, not because of falling household incomes, but because they've all simultaneously forgotten how to manage their finances?

David Anthony Freud

The unelected Tory peer David Anthony Freud is an individual who really makes my skin crawl. He quit New Labour when his vindictive schemes against the unemployed and disabled became too malicious for Gordon Brown to bear, so he simply jumped ship to the Tory party in order to put them into practice. Freud is notorious for making disgusting out-of-touch comments such as comparing unemployed people to corpses, claiming that "people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks; they've got least to lose" and claiming that disabled people shouldn't be entitled to the minimum wage.

When it comes to food banks and the poor, Freud's bizarre explanation of the exponential rise in food banks is a fascinating piece of pseudo-economic gibberish that really helps us to get inside the warped Tory mentality. In an astonishingly feeble effort to pretend that food poverty has absolutely nothing to do with benefits cuts and the draconian DWP sanctions regime, Freud tried to claim that the rise in food bank dependency was created because "food from a food bank is by definition a free good" and there's "almost infinite demand" for such free goods.

This is clearly pseudo-economic gibberish for several reasons, not least the fact that people have to be referred to food banks, which means that the food is not free, it comes at the cost of the time taken to fill out the forms to get a referral. Freud's bizarre explanation also completely neglects the fact that many people feel a deep sense of shame at having to ask for charity. Many people who would be entitled to food bank parcels refuse to ask for them out of pride, and many of those who do ask for them do so at huge cost to their sense of self-esteem.

If Freud's warped display of sham-economics made any sense at all in the real world, then surely everyone in the UK would be registered with Freecycle to get their share of this supply of free goods?

It should be a source of shame to the Tory party that one of their senior ministers is prepared to spout such pseudo-economic gibberish in order to create a post hoc explanation for the dramatic rise in absolute poverty that his own ideological attacks on the poor have played a large role in creating. However, it's pretty clear that once imbued with Conservative party tribalism, Tories becomes completely immune to emotions like shame and basic human empathy.

Marion B. Martin

The Tory Councillor for Ashford Marion B. Martin expressed this idea that the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich, and the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor in very clear terms when she said that "Being poor is as much a choice as being well off. Life is about choices".

The idea that there could be feckless and idle rich people living off inherited wealth, money embezzled through fraud, or the extraction of rent from people who actually work for a living seems as alien to her as the idea that there are millions of poor people trapped in wage slavery and working ridiculous hours just to keep their heads above water in austerity Britain.

It's as if this awful Tory woman has no idea at all that wealth has as much to do with opportunity as it does with choice. We can't all choose to be rich, because many of us find ourselves in situations where we have no choice but to endure poverty.

The fantasy of natural economic justice

It is absolutely clear from the above examples that a significant proportion of the Tory party like to believe that more and more people are becoming destitute, not because of George Osborne's catastrophically failing ideological austerity or Iain Duncan Smith's callous and incompetent reign of terror at the DWP, but because they're all mentally ill drug addicts and freeloaders, who are too thick to use an oven or to manage their own finances, and that they're like that because they've all deliberately chosen to be that stupid and feckless!

Conversely, these sanctimonious Tory gits like to imagine that they are rich and powerful, not because they inherited or married into wealth, attended elitist private schools that cost more than the average annual wage in fees, or clambered ruthlessly to the top of the pile by stamping on anyone who stood in their way, but because they are more wonderful, intelligent, wise and morally virtuous than anyone else!

These delusional Tories simply cannot accept the reality that the establishment minority is riddled with idle and feckless people who were simply fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families, and that many millions of good, honest hard working people have been reduced to abject poverty as a result of the catastrophically failing ideological austerity experiment that the Tory party continue to support so vehemently.

These people are so trapped in their bubbles of wealth and privilege, and their pitifully absolutist worldview of natural economic justice, that they simply refuse to accept that some rich people are ignorant lazy bastards, and some poor people are decent, honest and hard working people who have been pushed into destitution by factors beyond their own control.

The really awful thing is that the smug sanctimonious Tories who inhabit this absolutist world where wealth equates to virtue, and poverty equates to fecklessness, is that the many of the factors beyond the control of people suffering destitution stem directly from the Tory ideological austerity experiment that they gleefully support.

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